By Melina Dahms (Galarious Goods)
I love picture books. I love their weight in my hands, the promise held in a few pages. I love that you have to hold them up to really share them with others, inviting your audience to stop and look. And I love all the ways they can be brought to life in classrooms!
1. Use them to start the day (or the session)
While not all picture books are short, there are plenty of short and sweet picture books out there. Why not try starting your day (or session) with a picture book? A short text allows students a connecting activity, something to let them settle into the routine of the day. It gives time for late students to make their way into the classroom. It can be tied to the theme of the day or touch on a behaviour you’d like to improve. In older classes, students can even take turns to be the reader, allowing you the time to mark the roll or get beginning of the day jobs done. And by starting the day with a book, you’re showing your students that you prioritise literature and stories.
2. Use them to explore vocabulary
Picture books can be surprisingly rich in vocabulary. Authors have limited space to bring their world to life, and they tend to choose their words carefully. Students can search for unfamiliar words in picture books, create word wall displays from them, try to use them in their own writing. As students grow older they can explore how the author uses different words together and how the text might be different if the author used different words.
3. Use them as mentor texts
Picture books are ideal for students to explore text features – from how sentences are constructed to how punctuation is used to how an author describes characters, settings or actions. This is particularly good for guided reading or reading centres when a group of students can explore one text together.
4. Use them to explore different genres
The world of picture books is a rich one. Students can explore fantasy, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, wordless picture books, memoirs and biographies, poetry – even books with significant scientific, history or maths content! This makes them great introductions into new genres, but they can also be used for comparisons or as examples for students writing these genres themselves.
5. Use them to explore different subjects
Just as picture books cover many different genres, they also cover many different subjects. Learning about bushfire? There’s a picture book for that! (Try the beautiful The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe) Learning about war? There’s a picture book for that! (I still love Gary Crew’s Memorial) Learning about the 1967 referendum? There’s a picture book for that! (Say Yes by Jennifer Castles)
Picture books are a great way to introduce a new subject, to introduce new vocabulary and ideas and to build background knowledge for students. It also allows you to ensure that literacy is a priority across the curriculum.
6. Use them to build writing skills
Picture books are wonderful prompts for writing. Students of all ages can ask what might happen next – or what might have happened if something was changed in the book. Students can put themselves into the shoes of the characters to write first person narratives like diary entries or letters. The events of a story can make for a wonderful newspaper report.
One series of picture books with many, many writing opportunities is the Pig the Pug series by Aaron Blabey. You can find more writing ideas for that series in this blog post – along with a free download!
7. Use them to explore visual literacy
Picture books tell so much of their stories through their illustrations, whether it’s the intricate details of a Shaun Tan book, the beautiful realism of Freya Blackwood’s illustrations, or what Mothball the wombat is really up to in Bruce Whatley’s Diary of a Wombat illustrations. In a world which increasingly requires visual literacy, exploring the illustrations of picture books is a great way to improve our students’ skills.
8. Use them to explore reading aloud
The length of picture books – and the complete stories within them – make them perfect for students to build their reading aloud skills. Students can reflect on how they might use their voices to bring the stories to life – should they read faster or slower, louder or softer? Should they try an accent or different voices for different characters? (I like making Lion in The Very Cranky Bear very posh).
9. Use them with other media
Have you ever sung the song from Wombat Stew? Or watched the fabulous movies of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child? Picture books can be brought alive in a range of different media from songs to movies to museum and art gallery displays. You can introduce these different types of media based on picture books to students and explore how they enhance, change or build on the books. You can also challenge your students to create their own work based on a picture book you are exploring in the classroom.
10. Use them for enjoyment
It is okay to just have fun with picture books. To have a collection in your classroom which students can explore in their own time. To read them aloud when you have 5 or 10 minutes of spare time. To take them outside under a tree to share with your students. To examine old favourites. To admire the artwork and the way the author put the words together. To invite other teachers and staff and parents to share a picture book with the class.
When we give ourselves permission to enjoy texts in the classroom, we show our students that reading is fun – that picture books are fun – whether we’re new preppies or experienced Year 6 students or teachers or parents. And we show them that reading is something we can carry with us all of our lives. Isn’t that a great thing to share!
I’m passionate about education, reading, Australian authors and illustrators, fitting the right book to the right students and more! I create picture book studies for my Galarious Goods TpT store and blog about books and more at galariousgoods.com